Smoke

How much smoke is there?

Hardly smokin' at all

If there is a small stream of smoke, consider taking some less drastic actions, such as calmly powering off the device that appears to be emitting smoke. If the smoke ceases, then it is likely that the correct device was powered off. Then unplug the device from power, as well as anything else (such as data cables that may be plugged into the device). Isolate the system so that any danger will not spread to other electrical devices or other flammable matter. Determine if it is safe to open up the device: for a standard desktop computer, this is generally a safe operation. Do not cause unsafe scenarios by pulling apart devices, and especially do not cause further dangers by using any devices that may have been damaged. See if there are clear indications of what damage occurred. It may be worthwhile to try plugging the device in. (An example is when a new motherboard was found to have a two-inch flame coming out the top whenever power was on. This is not normal! Such a defective board was promptly returned.) If it can be determined what part is damaged, then perhaps other parts may be salvaged.

Where there's smoke, there's fir-ah!

What about cases where there are larger amounts of spoke?

First, remember to be safe and not do anything too rashly. For example, powering off a computer that controls the functions of a nuclear power plant's safety mechnanisms may be... unwise. Perhaps more commonly, activating a fire supression system, which frequently either spray liquid (onto electrical equipment) or displace oxygen (by filling an area with other, less breathable gas) may have expensive or other dire consequences. Although shutting down a server abruptly is usually not a recommended practice, reducing the likelihood of physical danger may have more pressing importance.

If anyone else is around, get attention. Yell, if needed. Do not be afraid to look like a frantic idiot if that helps to get attention. In some way/shape/form/fashion/method, let people know what is going on. This way, even if you are certain to be made fun of later, if you get hurt, somebody else may be able to help the situation, including helping you by dragging you out of a dangerous situation (possibly after you have become knocked unconscious and so are no longer really capable of yelling for help). Perhaps somebody further away may end up seeing an additional problem that you don't see (perhaps in part because you are too focused on one problem that you do know about), or maybe they are an available resource who is near a phone (but not near other objects that could help the situation).

The following are some common sense tips that may be good to think about ahead of time. However, do not consider this as advice coming from a trained professional. (However, if unexpected smoke is actively being noticed, scheduling a time for a professional training session is probably not the best course of immediate action.) Consider these to be ideas which may be worth thinking about, or even investigating further.

Before committing yourself to holding something, such as tipping an item off of a shelf and expecting to catch it, particularly any metal, touch it briefly and make sure that it isn't too hot to safely handle. Try to make sure that if your fingers were to unwillingly clench into a fist, which electrocution could cause, that you wouldn't end up grabbing something and end up continuing to hang onto it. (A brief slap may be safer than some other options, as the momentum may lead to discontinuing an unsafe situation.) Rashly turning off the only source of light in a room may be an inconvenience to yourself and/or to other people who may be trying to deal with a problem. (Note that turning off all artificial lights might be okay in environments where natural light may be sufficient.) Although acting quickly is likely to be beneficial, don't forget to think about consequences before performing actions!

However, as safety allows, try to remove electricity from the picture. This has a high likelihood of stopping the problem, whereas leaving stuff plugged in and powered on may allow the problem to continue and even spread to a much larger fire. If a device is smoking, unplug the device. If a UPS is smoking, determine whether it looks safe to press/hold the power button so that it just shuts off. (Doing this first may be good because otherwise, removing power from the unit may cause the UPS to switch to battery backup, and adding more activity to the device might not be good.) Other good things to do are to unplug the UPS from the electric outlet, and unplug each device from the UPS so that other devices aren't trying to draw power from the thing. If a power cord can be unplugged from either the outlet (on the wall or the UPS or surge protector) or the opposite side which plugs into the device, unplugging from the side furthest from the smoking unit may be better (namely so that you are as far away from the device as you reasonably can be while the device is unplugged). Removing batteries may be a good idea, although chances are that may not be super safe to do (particularly if they are leaking and/or hot). Remember, don't do something if it isn't safe. However, if it seems safe, removing active, or even potential, electricity is probably a good thing.

Hopefully by this point, the actual device causing smoke has been determined.

As convenient, remove all other plugs, such as data cables. (For video and/or sound devices, remove the video and/or audio cables). Obviously, this probably isn't worthwhile if the plug isn't removable. Also, it may or may not be feasible if the plug is screwed into a device. However, if a data cable (including a cable that transmits video and/or audio cata) can be removed, go ahead and do so.

Especially if the device is still smoking, move the device to another area. Outside is probably a good choice, so that if the device does go up in flames, then it will likely be surrounded by a hard and less burnable surface, such as concrete. Also, by seperating the device from other electronics, attempts to extinguish a subsequent fire will be less likely to cause damage to other comparatively expensive items like other electronics. Also, smoke is less likely to cause as much staining, or similar damage, to ceilings, walls, or other items, including other devices like electronics which can be damaged by exposure to smoke. Also, getting the device outside, away from smoke detectors, may reduce the likelihood of an automatic fire extinguishing system will causing liquid to drench the object, which may have the side effects of damaging other equipment and unpleasantly drenching you and other people. Covering the unit could be beneficial, although covering air vents might not be, and covering it with clothing could also provide additional fuel that could go up in flames, and cause certain damage to the clothing, making it undesirable.

However, if it is raining, keeping the device out of the rain (particularly before it is cooled off) may be preferable.

Other than making sure that people are alright and that other equipment doesn't look like it is being dangerous, the next priority is probably to wait for the thing to cool off. After it is cooled off, and likely safe to work with, remove any batteries which haven't been removed yet.

Finally, the excitement is over. Make sure the situation is calm, including making sure that your heart doesn't pounding extra-heavy (due to stress) for an unnecessarily long time. Take a deep breath, or perhaps better yet, four or more.

At this point, a device which has emitted spoke is probably unsafe to ever use again. However, whether the entire device should be thrown away, or not, may be something to think a bit about. If a computer was smoking, and it turns out that an optical drive went up into flames, the optical drive is probably worthless. The power supply may also have been damaged, and actually, the power supply may have been the cause of damage. The safest thing to do may be to consider all equipment to be potentially electrically unsafe, and to use it as little as possible. However, if there is any media, such as hard drives, in the device, it may be sensible to try to get that media to work, with careful supervision in controlled circumstances, at least temporarily but long enough so that the data can be copied off. (If the data is able to be restored from less damaged equipment, getting that copy of the data may be nearly or just as effective, and safer.) Other than getting any data which might be on the old machine, trying to use any of the equipment from the old machine that went up in smoke is probably not going to be worth the risk. (Instead, such a smoking event is likely a justifiable cause to consider seeing about using a different/replacement/new piece of equipment.)

However, before disposing of the unit, remember to be smart. Are there serial numbers from the device? Would those numbers, or other information (like the exact model of the unit), help with any investigations or other procedures such as filing a warranty claim? Those may be worth recording, particularly if a warranty claim will be filed. For that matter, if a wararnty claim is going to be pursued, the entire old and broken unit may need to be made available. Did anything else, located very near the damaged device (and possibly using the same UPS unit), get damaged?

See what can be done to prevent similar disasters in the future. If the device came from an unreputable source, consider the value of using such a risky supplier. What other equipment came from the same supplier? In addition to blaming the device that started going up in smoke, consider whether environment may have had something to do with the problem. Were the exhaust vents preventing hot air from escaping? Is this setup a configuration that is largely identical to other locations in the organization? If so, should those locations be investigated?

As for investigating the problem further, determine who is the best person to do so. (Proper forensics often involves photographing and documenting details before any further changes are made.) That being said, if the device is not dangerous to open up, consider opening it up before throwing it away. (In some cases, such as if nobody, including a warranty claims department, is likely to value the device again anyway, and if the device is certain not to ever be used again anyway, there may be little reason to be concerned about damaging the device further.) However, be certain not to open things that are dangerous. For example, untrained staff probably should not be trying to open a CRT monitor, and leaking chemicals from batteries may not be safe to touch. However, a network switch may an object that poses less safety threats for it to be opened up (forcably or otherwise), and a computer case is generally designed to be opened up. Perhaps there will be an indicator of where the problem was.

Chances may be high that cords used with the device may have had improper amounts of electricity traveling from the device. Such cords (especially if they are power cords) should probably be disposed of to make sure they are never used again.